Thank God for R.A. Williams Jr.

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  • Three Black pastors directly and profoundly shaped my commitment to expositional preaching. Two are now in heaven with Jesus: E.K. Bailey and A. Louis Patterson Jr. 

     The third is alive and well: R.A. Williams Jr. 

    Dr. R.A. Williams – the longtime pastor of the McCoy Memorial Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles (for more than four decades) – was recently honored as the 2023 “Living Legend” at the E.K. Bailey Preaching Conference in Dallas. My schedule did not permit me to attend. But I am glad that Dr. Williams is being recognized for his role in the revival of expository preaching in Black Baptist preaching circles. 

    I was a teenager when I first heard Dr. Williams preach. My friends and I went to a revival to hear Dr. Melvin Wade Jr., who would later become my pastor. We knew he was preaching with another pastor. But we did not know who he was. After hearing Pastor Wade, I bought a tape of the message. The person selling the tapes told me I should also get a copy of Dr. Williams’ message from the night before. So, I did. The sermon was on John 3:16. I listened to it until I wore the tape out! 

    Over the succeeding years, I heard Dr. Williams in person as often as possible. I also bought as many tapes as I could. And I stole a lot of his material! But at some point, instead of stealing his sermons, I asked, “How does he do what he does?” 

    One day, as I was sorting mail at my church office, I saw a flier for a preaching conference. What caught my eye was the cartoon picture of a pastor in a suit running with a bucket of water. The caption read: “Come learn how to dig your own wells, so you won’t have to steal other people’s water!” It was an ad for the first WHW Preaching Conference (I think it was initially called the B.E.S.T. Conference.). 

    My church paid for me to attend the conference. It was the first preaching conference I ever attended. I didn’t know what to expect. But that conference changed my preaching forever. The material was very practical. Sessions focused on word studies, grammar, context, and culture. The three founders – R.A. Williams, George Waddles, and the late Larry Harris – shared Bible study principles and techniques. With a small crowd and an intimate setting, these experienced pastors poured their wisdom into us. And I soaked it up all up. 

    Thousands of pastors around the country can give the same testimony from the more than thirty years the WHW Preaching Conference has met in Los Angeles each October. 

    I do not claim to know Dr. Williams well. But I have been an ardent student of his ministry from afar. There was a time when I was guilty of just imitating him. On one occasion, he publicly called me his “Mini-Me.” I took it as a compliment. As I grew out of imitating other preachers, I continued to learn from his principles and practices to sharpen my pulpit work. 

     I read many books on biblical preaching as a young man. And I was influenced by noted white pastors who practiced expository preaching. But Dr. Williams was an expositor who looked like me. He was an ideal mixture of sound doctrine, spiritual passion, and pulpit eloquence. And he had one of the best whoops (melodic sermon closes) in the country! 

    Dr. Williams’ pulpit work at McCoy Memorial influenced me to preach through books of the Bible. I love preaching entire Psalms as a result of hearing Dr. Williams preach Psalms 1-5 over five nights at the church I pastored. He is the first person I ever heard preach from Psalm 119. He is the first Black pastor I ever heard preach on the doctrine of election (Colossians 1).

    Williams was one of the first “big name” preachers who accepted to preach a revival at my church when I was a rookie pastor. He is a great model of taking what you learn and passing it on to bless others, which I have sought to follow. 

    Some years ago, I was up for a prominent church. The congregation overwhelmingly voted not to call me to be their next pastor for doctrinal reasons. I was roundly criticized for letting “secondary issues” get in the way of a golden opportunity. Discouraged, I went to hear Dr. Williams at a local church one night.

    As I was leaving after the service, someone stopped me and told me Dr. Williams wanted to see me. When I met him at the front of the church, he asked whether what he had heard about that church opening was true. When I told him it was true, he scooped me up in a bear hug and told me how proud he was of me. It was just what this discouraged young pastor needed to hear to certify in my heart and mind that a ministry position is never worth compromising my biblical convictions. 

    There would not be an H.B. Charles Jr. if there were not a R.A. Williams Jr. He is, indeed, a living legend who continues to faithfully preach the word, shepherd God’s people, and train the next generation of preachers. 

     Thank God for R.A. Williams!  


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.